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science, Switzerland

Jeng H.A.,Old Dominion University | Huang Y.-L.,Kaohsiung Medical University | Pan C.-H.,Occupational Safety and Health | Diawara N.,Old Dominion University
International Journal of Environmental Health Research | Year: 2015

The objective of the study was to examine the associations between environmentally relevant low metal concentrations and semen quality parameters in men. The concentrations of zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), cadmium (Cd), arsenic (As), selenium (Se), and lead (Pb) in the seminal plasma and urine were measured from 196 male human subjects in Taiwan. Urinary Cd concentrations were negatively associated with sperm viability (p = 0.006). Seminal plasma Cu concentrations of the normal group (≥ 15 × 106/ml) were significantly lower than those of the abnormal group (p = 0.023). However, the linear regression analysis showed a weak association between Cu concentration and sperm concentration, along with other semen parameters. No significant relationship between other metals (As, Pb, Zn, and Se) and semen quality was observed. © 2014 Taylor & Francis. Source

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Site: http://www.sej.org/headlines/list

"WASHINGTON -- Alex Hummell says few dentists seem worried enough about invisible, odorless mercury to take the kinds of precautions needed to prevent everyday exposures. As the head of a Littleton, Colorado, firm that sells sophisticated equipment to gauge airborne levels of highly toxic mercury at industrial sites worldwide, Hummell has watched manufacturers of all sorts put their employees through strict training programs in which they don special equipment to avoid even tiny exposures. Then he walks into dental clinics and is dumbfounded. On numerous occasions, he said, he has detected mercury levels in dental offices that were two to three times the average workday exposure limit of 100 micrograms per cubic meter set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but patients and the staff were wearing little or no protective equipment."

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Site: http://phys.org/technology-news/

Developed at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, the vest uses sensors to measure a worker's body temperature and heart rate and sends the data wirelessly to a smartphone app, which instantly alerts users to any anomalies. The innovation comes amid concern at the growing number of heat-related accidents on construction sites. And it follows a NASA climate report warning that temperatures over the past decade have been the warmest in more than a century. Vice-Chancellor's Research Fellow in RMIT's School of Property, Construction and Project Management, Dr Ruwini Edirisinghe has been working on the smart vest concept for more than a year. She devised her heat stress vest as part of her research in to improving worker safety. "Heat related illness is of serious concern in the construction industry, and can lead to fatalities," Edirisinghe said. "It can cause heat stroke and damage to body organs and the nervous system resulting in permanent disability or even death. "A big part of the problem is some workers don't recognise the early warning signs. This technological solution will hopefully change that." National and international regulatory bodies such as SafeWork in Australia, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSH) in the USA and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK are increasingly recognising heat stress hazards in the construction industry. Workers in building and construction are at higher risk of death or injury than those in many other occupations, with figures from SafeWork Australia showing the industry accounted for 12 per cent of the nation's work-related fatalities in 2013-14. But other workers are also exposed to hot conditions on the job, including bakers, fire-fighters, welders, miners, boiler room workers, chefs, farmers, gardeners and foundry operators. The signs and symptoms of heat illness can include feeling sick, nauseous, dizzy or weak. Victims can also become clumsy, collapse, suffer convulsions and die. "Globally, the construction industry is one of the lowest performing industries in terms of its safety record," said Edirisinghe, who has a background in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and smart technologies in construction research. "Construction workers in extreme temperatures and humid environments, confined spaces and near radiant heat sources are vulnerable to risks." Edirisinghe said her smart vest kit takes the guesswork out of heat-related workplace safety by alerting construction workers or their supervisors before such problems arise. Data from the vest can be sent direct to a smartphone app via Bluetooth. Edirisinghe's project is believed to be the first of its type in the construction industry in the world. "While there are researchers working on anti-heat stress smart T-shirts using advanced fabrics, these have no sensors embedded so are unable to monitor or provide instant health data," she said. Edirisinghe has plans to extend the smart vest system to include smart glasses, enabling wearers to "see" warnings about the state of their own health and wellbeing projected right before their eyes. Explore further: Study sheds light on prevention of heat stroke for outdoor workers

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Site: http://www.reuters.com

Four citations, with combined possible fines of up to $25,770, were issued in April by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health against the San Diego amusement park. SeaWorld trainers have not been in the water with the killer whales during shows since 2010, when a trainer at its Orlando, Florida, park was killed by an orca during a performance. During training and medical care however, staff interact closely with the marine mammals and the citations claimed the park had ineffective training and measures for ensuring worker safety in the pools. One citation said SeaWorld also required staff to sign a confidentiality agreement that discouraged them from reporting hazards. "The goal here in California is protecting worker safety and this settlement does improve the safety of SeaWorld employees," said agency spokeswoman Erika Monterroza. Once the settlement is approved, which Monterroza said was expected to occur at the department's next meeting on Jan. 21, trainers will no longer be allowed to swim under or ride on the killer whales in the medical pool, nor will they be able to stand on the animals except to get out of the tank. SeaWorld announced the pending settlement on its SeaWorldCares website on Wednesday, saying the resolution was based largely on their existing safety protocol. "This decision will allow SeaWorld to continue our critical animal care practices and trainer safety training method," the company's statement said. "These techniques are important to the safety of our trainers and veterinary staff as well as the health and well-being of the orcas in our care." SeaWorld has faced heated criticism and declining revenues since the release of the 2013 documentary film "Blackfish," which depicted the captivity and public exhibition of killer whales as inherently cruel. SeaWorld has criticized the film as inaccurate and misleading. Last Tuesday, SeaWorld sued California authorities in an attempt to overturn a decision that allows the theme park to expand its orca habitat only if it stops breeding killer whales in captivity.

News Article
Site: http://phys.org/technology-news/

As recently as the middle of last year, it seemed the South Korean consumer electronics giant was ready to come to terms with critics of its workplace safety. While still not conceding a link between the chemicals used in its semiconductor factories and cancer, it apologized and promised financial help for sick workers. The statement was a welcome if incomplete victory for families and activists who have battled for years to hold the company to account. The shift came as Samsung Electronics prepared for leadership of the company to pass to Lee Jae-yong, the son of its ailing chairman. The plight of former workers was also attracting media scrutiny in Europe and in the U.S., both important markets for Samsung's smartphones and other products. Another sign of progress came in December 2014 when Samsung, workers and their families agreed that a three-member panel of experts would mediate. But an ugly rift has now opened between Samsung and the main advocacy group for sick workers, Banolim. At issue is Samsung's rejection of the mediator's recommendations that an independent organization be established to oversee compensation and monitor safety and preventive measures at its factories. "If there are no preventive measures, workers will continue to get rare diseases. And every time there is a sick worker, Samsung will just compensate," said Hwang Sang-gi, a founding member of Banolim. He is among the people who say they won't apply for Samsung's financial aid, seeing it as a distraction from the more important issue of prevention. Hwang lost his 22-year-old daughter Yu-mi to leukemia in 2007 after she worked dipping silicon wafers in chemicals at Samsung's Giheung factory, south of Seoul. Her death galvanized concern about conditions at Samsung factories and South Korea's semiconductor industry in general. Hwang's struggle to find out why his daughter died was the basis of a popular movie released last year. More than 200 people who worked at Samsung's semiconductor and LCD factories and suffered chronic illnesses have contacted or sought help from Banolim. Of them, 72 have died. Many had cancers such as leukemia and were aged in their 20s or 30s. The oldest cases date to the 1980s but most are from the 1990s and 2000s. South Korea has long praised the economic benefits of the semiconductor industry, which helped the country become among the richest in Asia. But it only recently began discussing the human and economic costs of workers who became ill after or while laboring on chip manufacturing lines, which use hundreds of chemicals that have not always been disclosed or monitored. Only in 2012 did Samsung begin monitoring the level of benzene in the air at its factories. The carcinogen could be released as a by-product from other substances. A one-year evaluation of six South Korean semiconductor companies including Samsung, released in 2008, reported a statistically significant increase in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma among female workers. The study by the government-run Occupational Safety and Health Research Institute said there was no statistically meaningful increase in leukemia. Samsung said the results didn't stem from its workplaces but no factory specific data has been released. The institute began a 10-year study in 2008. Samsung rejected the mediator's proposals because establishing a public entity takes time, which only "prolongs the pain," said Baik Sooha, a vice president at Samsung. "One of the important ways to see the resolution of this problem is to see how many people have agreed to settle," he said. Samsung says it will cover medical fees and some income for workers with any of 26 diseases. So far, 120 people have applied for compensation. Only a few are known to be from the 200-plus cases tracked by Banolim. Among those applying, 59 received an undisclosed amount of money and agreed not to pursue legal action against Samsung. Another nine will soon settle as well. The remaining 52 either did not meet the Samsung's criteria for settlement or are still undergoing the settlement process. Samsung would not specify how many were rejected. Meanwhile, South Korea's second-largest semiconductor company SK Hynix has opened its oldest chip factories, chemical use and employee health data to external investigators. Last month it accepted their recommendations to provide financial help to all sickened employees, including those suffering from miscarriage and infertility, two categories that Samsung doesn't consider for financial assistance. U.N. human rights rapporteur Baskut Tuncak said in October he has "grave concern" about Samsung's compensation plan, which has become cloaked in secrecy. It appeared that victims' need for health care and other expenses was being used to "circumvent the prospects of increased scrutiny into whether businesses are taking steps to prevent reoccurrence" of health risks, he said. Banolim has faced an onslaught of criticism in South Korea's media that began not long after Samsung indicated it was unhappy with the mediator's proposals. Some news articles portrayed the advocacy group as a threat to the country's semiconductor business at a time when Chinese firms are catching up to South Korean companies. Others said the campaigners wanted the oversight body established so they could get jobs. Samsung said it has never encouraged any South Korean media to publish stories attacking the advocacy group. The conglomerate is the country's biggest advertiser. "When I look at what media say, a lot of times I get so angry," said Son Sung-bae, 26, whose father died in 2012. He was diagnosed with leukemia working at a contractor that maintained equipment at Samsung's semiconductor lines. Samsung's financial assistance is available to contractors and their families but Son won't apply for it. "There are a lot of families who think the way Samsung compensates is entirely wrong," he said. But their options are limited. Over the years, the government agency that oversees insurance for occupational diseases compensated only three semiconductor cases. The agency requires a clear link to the work environment be demonstrated, which was nearly impossible for Samsung workers, partly because the company did not disclose all the chemicals it used. Another four cases succeeded in overturning the government agency's rejection at courts, including Hwang. Until mid-2014, workers had to fight not only the government agency that was a defendant in lawsuits but also Samsung's lawyers who aided the government agency. Campaigners believe an external organization with powers to halt work at Samsung factories, where there are no labor unions to speak up for workers, is the best way to minimize health risks in the semiconductor industry. But the latest developments, they say, are shutting the door to accountability. "It looks like things are back to square one," said Son.

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